Fair warning, to get to my point just read the last paragraph 😊
I think it is important to keep in mind that rules of thumb like the distance to sail offshore
are just generalities and you should plan around your own particular circumstances. Case in point, last Spring my wife and I sailed our new to us boat from SF to Puget Sound
, picking that general time based on the pilot charts
. Knowing that schedules are one of the keys to getting into trouble, we gave ourselves plenty of time to find a weather window and ended up waiting just over five weeks due to a huge and stable high that developed earlier than normal over the Pacific causing just the effect you are trying to avoid. We heard a LOT of advice saying to just suck it up and sail straight out 200 or so miles and then turn north, but given that the weather had been winds in the upper 20's and 30's from the NNW consistently for weeks, the seas were large and ugly and would be on the beam for days while we clawed our way west. During our wait, I met some crew from a boat that had just arrived having sailed down from Puget Sound in these conditions for the Pacific Cup race
, and they said they saw winds well over predicted (up to 60 knots one night) and that making the trip then had been "stupid". We also listened to the USCG side of a VHF
conversation with a sailboat trying to get in from Hawaii
sailing east along the same path we would be taking to go west the 200 or so miles. Sailing beam-to in 14'+ waves for days, they were suffering from extreme seasickness and were also apparently knocked down by a statistical outlier of a wave. It sounded like they initially requested evacuation but we later learned they limped their way in, to Crescent City I believe. This had a big impact on the development of our strategy.
Watching the GRIBs for weeks made me realize that, at least last year when I was looking, the winds were significantly lighter closer to shore. Over that time the GRIBs were also surprisingly good at predicting the timing of lulls, say to within 4-8 hours. As often reported by others, they did seem to underestimate wind
strength by 5 knots or so, and we experienced that on our trip north as well. In light of this, we ended up motorsailing within 20-30 miles of the coast and stayed within the "tow lane" established between crabbers and tow boat operators. It is a path 1-2 miles wide delineated pretty much all the way up the coast where crabbers have agreed to not place pots. We stuck to the outer edge of the lane and were glad to have stayed in it as we did see quite a few pots.
We left in a tight weather window that would get us around Mendocino in a predicted lull, and happily it worked. While very uncomfortable for the first few days, thankfully the calmest part of our trip up the entire CA coast was rounding Mendocino having timed it just right. Unfortunately, we went slower than planned the first couple of days due to the seas and between being behind our hoped for timing and the lull shutting down on us a bit sooner than forecast
, rounding Cape Blanco was the hardest part of the trip... but that is another story.
So the moral of this story, look at your particular situation and then make a decision on the route. While the "sail west then north" advice may be the right choice in a normal year, having to sail close to 300 miles offshore to get out of the worst of the winds did not seem prudent given our specific situation, and in hindsight I don't think I would have done anything differently route wise. The inshore route worked well and definitely shortened our trip. One vital thing to consider if taking the inshore route is what many others have mentioned, you cannot count on ducking in somewhere if the weather turns ugly! Ports
are few and far between and will most likely be closed before you can get to them in time. The bars north of Fort Bragg all the way to Grays Harbor were closed most of our trip up the CA coast.
Hope this helps... PM me if you want the .gpx of my route up the tow lane.